Just one sorta review today. It’s one of those where I took some notes while reading so I wouldn’t forget things. As I occasionally do with the longer stories I read. Tomorrow’s post will probably be a non-pony review. I’m out of those at the moment (I think? Sometimes they fall between the couch cusions) and the next pony fanfic I plan on reading will be The Immortal Game. I read it as one of the earlier ponyfics I stumbled across, exactly two years ago on this past Sunday. Or at least that’s when that review for it went up. It will be interesting to see how I react to it this time around with two years of brain stuffed full of pony words. Inspired, of course, by Loganberry’s coverage of his first read through it.
Oh, and for late realizations, I just figured out why the fimfiction feed went berserk last night. Or the night before. I just remember looking at it and wondering what the heck caused like 30 notifications between dinner and me finally going to sleep. It wasn’t until the day after (today?) when I realized it was because of the movie. Doh. Moments where you really feel stupid. Because I had heard the movie came out, I just didn’t connect the two.
My reaction to this was much like my reaction to reading Dangerous Business, only moreso. Going to put my notes and thoughts while reading down below. The hard part is a story like this is a hard sub-genre of fan fiction to review critically. This and Dangerous Business are stories, yes, but they are also basically love letters to the source material. In this case, that would be Tolkien bits. Since most of my annoyances with the story involve those bits I find it a little hard to be critical. To quote a great D&D advice video I enjoyed:
“It’s like telling your best friend exactly why his prom date is ugly. You may have your reasons, you may even be right, but at the end of the day you’re still a dick.”
So, keep in mind that my overall reaction to this story was positive. I just don’t like Tolkien as much as the author does. So without further adieu, onto the ramblings I typed up while reading it.
Besides the will of evil
It has both the core and the trappings of Tolkien, but the trappings feel a bit out of place. If the author had managed to keep the core, but change out the trappings it would have been a much stronger story.
And where did Rarity teleport those ponies to? Sure she says she didn’t personally kill them, but that’s kind of a fine line to cross. I’m reminded of the part of the TV show Babylon 5 when the Minbari were having their civil war. Minbari do not kill Minbari is their oldest law. So one side forced the entire population of as city to leave and march on foot to the next city. Which was hundreds of miles through harsh northern winter territory. Sure, they didn’t kill anyone, but let the cold and the lack of food and the weather wipe out nearly everyone. Since apparently none of the ponies Rarity saved showed up in the crystal empire, they most likely did not survive. But at least Rarity didn’t kill them herself. So she gets to claim the moral high ground.
Also, I so disagree with the powerful seers not doing anything because they are afraid to change the future, or they doing know if what they do will change the future for good or ill. Congratulations, that’s known as what the rest of us have to deal with all the time. You do the best you can with what you have. You hope your efforts create more good than harm. You examine the results as best you can and learn from them to do better the next time. Being able to see the future, or possible futures, doesn’t change that except you have a better view of the results to refine your efforts. You can even study those possible futures to see why they turned out good, work out the various cause and effects. More knowledge is always better and not sharing knowledge when it might help others is really short sighted for a near immortal prophet pony.
The main problem I have with the core message of this is that it’s not true. Or, at least it’s not true in the east it is presented here. Optimism and faith in a brighter tomorrow is not always rewarded. Sometimes the darkness wins, at least for individuals. Keeping your faith because you know it will be rewarded isn’t faith. It’s a business deal. It’s tabletop rpg faith where you worship a god and get granted magic in return. For all that it is such a core of this story, I still consider Fallout: Equestria to have the best message of faith I’ve ever run across. Partly because at no point did I feel that there would be a bright and happy ending. The good guys would probably win, sure, but it would be at great cost and the victory would only win them the chance to spend their lives in a horrible wasteland rebuilding a functional civilization, not a nice or comfortable one. Which made the final result much more powerful. Whereas in this one, I knew it would all be fine from about the middle point on. Again, that’s not faith that’s plot convenience.
The Doctor Who reference was both (relatively, as these things go) subtle and slightly jarring.
Partly because I was distracted so I wasn’t immersed in the story much, but also because this just rubbed me the wrong way.
“Twilight cast a spell that caused a fire”
What? Not conjured a fire, or lit a fire with her magic. Cast a spell that caused a fire? Awkward as heck that wording.
Near the end when the forces of good are making a final push against the dark lord’s fortress he comes out and smothers them with shadow once again and even the remaining divinities and elder elk and the elements of harmony are being swallowed up, the story has Princess Celestia who had doubted before and regained her faith be the beacon of light in the dark. I wanted to smack my face with my tablet with that one. It should be Princess Luna that is the one that pulls through there. She is the one that fell into darkness and was redeemed. It should have been a moment where Celestia falters again, reinforcing her earlier doubt, and then Princess Luna is the one that pushes through the darkness to rally everyone.
“You were the one that taught me that in the darkness nightmares there is always light, dear sister.”
In fact, looking back on the story from that point, Princess Luna was very underrepresented. She gets some screen time in the early parts as the stated better warrior/tactician of the two, but the one battle she is in charge of goes horribly. After that she gets some good dialogue and some nice scenes talking with her sister, but in general it was basically ‘and Luna was there too’. I kept waiting for the comparison between the darkness of night and the darkness of evil. To have her either be the first line of defense in the dark against the dark, or something demonstrating that there is night and there is shadow and the two are very different. Nope. We get one little brief mention of something like that, but mostly just as flavor text in one of the god-battles of aspects and immense power.
The author also goes full in with Tolkien’s theme of inner is reflected in the outer. Greater magical power makes you physically larger. That goodness is nice to be around and evil is horrible to be around, in the most blatant and mind-numbingly obvious ways. When several of the mane six come into great power as avatars of the elements of harmony they get several people commenting on how nice they smell. That they were surrounded by the scent of warm spring mornings and the like.
Combined with the fact that the changelings, who were ordered to sow dissent and chaos in Equestria very early in the story, get a single scene of talking some paranoia with a couple of ponies in Ponyville and then nothing. Not even a report that a changeling had been detected trying to sabotage things. Even when later the evil lord commands that the natural changelings (there was natural and magically created mindless version at that point) were to be pulled back from combat duty to spy and spread dissent. Nothing comes from that either. So the story completely lacks any real deception in it. Everything is exactly what it seems like on the surface. Having the changelings be such a focus of the early story and end up using them as mindless cannon fodder soldiers is such a waste. Heck, the Diamond Dogs would have worked perfectly for that. But they wouldn’t fit the visual image of dark evilness like the black spikey insect Changelings.
And, again, Shining Armor doesn’t get to do what he was shown doing in the show. Perfect opportunity for him to whip out the city sized magic shields and nope. I’m getting tempted to write a rant fic about that. Maybe after alicorn retirement home.
At the end when the mane six avatars of the elements face down the dark lord, knowing that violence isn’t the answer they draw on the magic of harmony for the rainbow laser and… No, wait, they go with attacking him for a big special effects action scene first for no apparent reason. Guess when victory is assured via plot you can have a bit of fun before getting down to business. Got to love just ignoring one of the big themes of the story for a bit. Also he tried to dodge and strike back while they powered up the friendship laser. Discord could have told him that wouldn’t work.
Overall, good story that would have been a great story with most of the overt Tolkien stuff sliced out and replaced with a bit more nuance and subtlety. It had a wonderful reformed Discord, though. That’s the one part I can praise without reservation.